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Chapter 14 — John Brander

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Following his departure from Castlecomer, Mr Brander took up a teaching post in the all-girls secondary school in Tullamore. Sr Ines18 was principal at the time. She is now elderly and gave evidence to the Committee of her recollection of Mr Brander. In a letter to the Department of Education in the mid-1970s, she advised of the appointment of Mr Brander as a teacher in the School and stated that he was moving to the School for family reasons.


In evidence she said that ‘there was a gap for an Irish and geography teacher and it was in the middle of the school year. So I had to advertise for the job and Mr Brander– so far as I can remember, all of that is not in my head at all except that he applied and seem to be a very suitable and I took him on’. She said that he was taken on effectively there and then, as the students had no teacher. This is inconsistent with evidence from the staff at Castlecomer, who said that he left at the end of the school year, and with his Departmental record showing that he commenced on 1st August.


As before, he built up a relationship with his employers. She told the Committee, ‘He was always a perfect gentleman to me and was very good friends with all the Sisters’. He continued to secure good results for his pupils.


Again, allegations of physical assault emerged. He appeared to have been a constant source of concern for Sr Ines. She reprimanded him numerous times regarding his discipline and said that he was always very apologetic. She gave evidence that she would hear him shouting from her office. He continued his policy of disciplining girls by making them kneel, sometimes making them kneel on their hands. The students complained to her about this treatment ‘maybe once or twice, not very much, but I got the message and I talked to him’.


While she said that she believed he never struck a pupil, she appears to have warned him against it: ‘When I was speaking to Mr Brander about striking students I said “Just be very careful, we cannot strike children, it is not our policy for the discipline in the School”’. She added, ‘I suppose I would be afraid he might strike a child ... [he came across] as very strong person’.


A statement was issued by the School, following his sentencing in respect of the charges relating to Walsh Island NS, as follows: Sr. [Ines], who was Principal for his years of service, recollects complaints from time to time from parents and students. While these complaints are unrecorded, nevertheless, she recollects that they related to discipline incidents in the classroom but none of the complaints were of sexually inappropriate conduct. In one specific incident a senior member of staff recollects an accusation of Mr [Brander] having struck a student. It has been widely reported that contact was made with the School in ... alerting the authorities to [Mr Brander’s] previous history. We have examined our files and interviewed the Principal of the day, Sr. [Ines], who has no record or recollection of receiving such information.


However, in evidence before the Investigation Committee, when asked whether she recalled pupils complaining about his discipline, Sr Ines replied: ‘Not really no, I never got serious complaints’. She further said that she did not recall any parents coming to the School to complain. Sr Ines accepted that the statement quoted above must be correct but she had no recollection of the matters stated therein. She could not recollect recording complaints made by parents or whether she would have done so: It was a very busy school. You couldn’t be taking complaints all day. I just did what I was expected to do and did the best I could in a big school.


When pressed as to why, given her experience, she did not record the complaints, she repeated that she did not know why.

Garda investigation in the 1980s


In the early 1980s a Garda investigation was commenced following allegations made by a pupil,Taina,19 that she had been assaulted by Mr Brander. In the course of this investigation, students and teachers were interviewed and made statements to the Gardaí. The circumstances surrounding these allegations are as follows.


A room in the School was set aside to operate as a shop. Mr Brander supervised the shop during break time. On the occasion in question, he arrived late and a large number of children had congregated in the room. There appears to have been a regulation that only a set number of children could be in the room at one time. He shouted at the children to get out of the room and form a queue outside.Taina appears not to have departed as instructed. At this point the statements made by the various witnesses diverge. What is clear is that there was an altercation between Mr Brander and Taina. The school principal, Sr Ines, was absent at the time. The vice-principal, in her Garda statement described how she met Taina in the corridor. Taina was very upset. She said that Mr Brander had struck her twice in the chest.


The vice-principal fetched Mr Brander to have him deal with the matter. There was a further altercation between Mr Brander and Taina. A male teacher, arrived on the scene and appears to have warned them that other people could hear. This teacher, on the advice of his union, the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland, later declined to make a statement to the Gardaí. Taina’s mother was called to the School at the request of her daughter. The mother, Mr Brander and Sr Edita,20 the School Manager, had a meeting in the course of which Mr Brander explained that he had merely brushed her arms down and that he was sorry that it had occurred. Sr Edita and Mr Brander appear to have thought that was the end of the matter. However, the mother made a Garda complaint that day.


The Gardaí took statements from the complainant, her mother and another student. The statement of this pupil was witnessed by a Garda. She said that, while she had not witnessed the incident complained of, she was herself pushed out of the room by Mr Brander. Initially, statements were taken from the vice-principal, Sr Edita and Sr Trista,21 who was in the room at the time of the alleged assault. Sr Trista was of the view that Taina had adopted a defiant attitude. She saw Mr Brander slap her arms down from the folded position twice but did not regard this as an assault. Sr Edita also seemed to have questioned the bona fides of the complaint, commenting that she was ‘roaring crying’ with no tears.


Some days later, Mr Brander and 12 further students made statements. Mr Brander denied the allegations entirely. He made no mention of her adopting a particular attitude or of slapping her arms down. He merely said that she was one of a group of children he ushered from the room. The first he knew that anything was wrong was when the vice-principal came to him. He was most surprised when he heard that Taina was crying, and stated that he had never used corporal punishment in the last 14 years and that ‘it was beyond my comprehension how I could be implicated with making any girl cry’. He said he had made an apology only in relation to the girl’s mother having to come to the school and not because he had done anything to warrant a complaint. He commented on his good relations with the family. Surprisingly, he was not questioned further regarding the inconsistencies between his statement and that of the other adults who had witnessed the events.


One of the students from whom a statement was taken on the later date, supported the allegations and was described as ‘collaborating the injured party’s account’. Each of the statements taken from pupils on the later date was witnessed by one of two teachers at the School. Three pupils described Mr Brander slapping her arms down, and specifically stated that they did not regard it as an assault. Two others referred to him putting his hand on her shoulder and ushering her out of the room. A number referred to her as having adopted a defiant attitude.


In the statement issued by the School quoted above, no mention was made of a Garda investigation in the early 1980s. The Investigation Committee learned of this investigation through Garda discovery and not through the School or the Congregation.

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  4. He was again transferred to another primary school St Michael’s CBS Inchicore. He remained here for one month and then moved to CBS James’ St.
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  11. Irish National Teachers’ Organisation.
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  22. Irish for ‘This is a very good teacher: he has qualifications in Irish’.